Foreign relations

This section describes Azerbaijan's relations with:

  • Turkey
  • Russia
  • Iran
  • The West
  • OSCE
  • COE
Strongly influenced by the Karabakh conflict

Azerbaijan’s foreign relations, like those of Armenia, are strongly influenced by the Karabakh conflict, though they are also affected by a number of other factors.

Turkey is main ally

Azerbaijan’s main ally in the region is Turkey. Azerbaijan also has friendly relations with Georgia. Like Georgia, Azerbaijan seeks to reduce Russia’s strategic presence in the Southern Caucasus.

The 2009 Turkey-Armenia Accord to establish diplomatic relations, which was not accompanied by any progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, disturbed Azerbaijan. Even Turkey’s statement that it would not implement the Accord without greater flexibility by Armenia in the negotiations was not completely reassuring.

Turkey and Azerbaijan institutionalized their relationship in an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Assistance in 2010.

The two states most recently carried out joint military exercises in Baku and Nakhchivan in Azerbaijan in July 2013.

Balanced relationship with Russia

Azerbaijan has developed a balanced relationship with Russia in recent years. Baku has no problem saying no when Moscow's proposals cut across Baku's view of its national interests.  Azerbaijan turned down Russia’s proposal to renew its lease on the Gabala radar station, which expired in 2012, leading Russia to abandon its last military installation in the country. In May 2013 Azerbaijan terminated the 1996 agreement on using the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline, due to its excessively high tariffs

Russian-Azerbaijani trade increased in 2012, up 11% from the previous year. Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan have led the trade relationship, rather than oil and gas deals.  In 2013, Russia delivered 100 T-90 tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery.  This is part of $4 billion in Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan in recent years, making Baku one of Moscow's major arms buyers. Russia sells to Azerbaijan at market prices, while selling arms to Azerbaijan's adversary Armenia at discounted prices or given at no cost.  This enables Moscow to calibrate the military balance between the two, and gives it leverage possessed by no other potential mediator.

Russian President Putin visited Aliyev in Baku in August 2013.  They witnessed the signing of several agreements of general intent by the heads of the Russian Rosneft and Azerbaijani SOCAR state oil firms.  (It remains to be seen if these agreements will be followed up by specific projects.)  For his part, Putin has not engaged in the mediation efforts his predecessor had conducted with the Azeri and Armenian presidents.  (Medvedev as prime minister has continued to host the two leaders in trilateral meetings in 2013.)  Putin apparently believes that Nagorno-Karabakh deadlock without Russian mediation serves Moscow's interests better than an active Russian-led process.  In any case, Russia, as Armenia's ally,  will continue to play a pivotal role in this conflict.

Gabala Radar Station (Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance)

Gabala Radar Station (Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance)

President Putin with Azerbaijan President Aliyev. at signing of Russian-Azerbaijani documents during visit to Baku, August 13, 2013.(Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

President Putin with Azerbaijan President Aliyev. at signing of Russian-Azerbaijani documents during visit to Baku, August 13, 2013.(Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)


Azerbaijan and Iran

Most Azerbaijanis acknowledge the historical, cultural, and religious links between Azerbaijan and Iran.

Relations between the two countries, however, are poor. Sources of tension include a territorial dispute over the control of offshore oilfields and the long-term possibility of Iran losing southern Azerbaijan to a united Azerbaijani state.  In addition, Iran was implicated in planned terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan against Israeli and U. S. targets in 2008 and 2012.

Oriented toward the West

The foreign policy of Azerbaijan is oriented mainly toward the West. In part, this is a consequence of Azerbaijan’s orientation toward Turkey, which it sees as part of the West.

Azerbaijani democrats wish that the West would integrate Azerbaijan more rapidly into Western institutions, and act more effectively in defense of democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. From the perspective of the Aliyev regime, by contrast, concern for democracy and human rights has typically been an irritant threatening to spoil relations that are otherwise strategically important to both parties.

Aliyev visited the White House in 2006, where President Bush sought his support for U. S. policies on Iran and the war on terror. Azerbaijan has sent troops to serve with the NATO-based coalition in Afghanistan.

The strong U. S. role in achieving the 2009 Turkey-Armenia Accord without pushing for progress on Nagorno-Karabakh had a negative impact on the Azeri-U. S.relationship. There was further damage by the U. S. Congress’ $8 million appropriation for humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Azerbaijan laments that the U, S. has not taken a more active role in seeking apolitical settlement and the return of Nagorno-Karabakh.  Nonetheless, Azerbaijan continues to be a strong security partner of the U. S. and NATO, underlined during the visit of Defense Minister Safar Abiyev with his counterpart Defense Secretary Hagel in Washington in August 2013.

Baku enters into natural gas distribution in EU

Azerbaijan's State Oil Company SOCAR successfully won the tender to buy Greece's gas pipelines network and liquified gas terminal for $525 million in June 2013, giving it entree into the EU gas distribution and transmission business for the first time. 

The gas producers’ consortium at Shah Deniz in Azerbaijan selected the Greece-Italy route known as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project for transportation of its production. The selection of TAP has effectively killed the Nabucco West project.

Between EU and Russian-led Customs Union

Azerbaijan has found its own way between the competing EU and Russian-led Customs Union.  Aliyev asserted in January 2014 that Azerbaijan was not interested in an association agreement with the EU, but wanted a higher form of cooperation than association.  Earlier, the EU Commission had rejected signing as trategic modernization partnership agreement with Baku without an association agreement.  Azerbaijan and the EU did sign a visa facilitation agreement at the Eastern Partnership Summit at Vilnius in November 2013, and subsequently a mobility partnership agreement in December 2013.  Azerbaijan has focused its cooperation with the EU on issues of importance to it, such as energy, transportation and worker mobility, while suggesting that it does not have to make a choice between the rival economic groups.

Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov with Israel's Preident Shimon Peres, in Jerusalem(
Mark Neiman/Israel Government Press Office)

Mark Neiman/Israel Government Press Office)

Azerbaijan has had a close relationship with Israel since it became independent in 1991. Israel currently buys 30% of its oil from Azerbaijan, and Baku is a significant customer of Israeli military technology and equipment.  Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov visited Israel in April 2013, the highest ranking Azeri official to visit Israel ever. 

East and West and the Karabakh conflict

In the 1990s, Azerbaijanis complained that both Russia and the West were biased toward the Armenian side of the Karabakh conflict. One reason for this perception was Section 907 of the U. S. Freedom Support Act, which banned aid to Azerbaijan so long as it maintained its blockade of Armenia.

In 2001, the U. S. Senate repealed Section 907 in recognition of Azerbaijan’s contribution to the post-September 11th war on terrorism. (Azerbaijan had provided intelligence and allowed the U. S. to use its airspace.) As a result, Azerbaijan has strengthened its relations with the U. S. and received substantial U. S. economic and military aid, including assistance in building up its maritime defenses against Iran. The U. S. and Azerbaijan also explored in early 2009 the shipment of non-military goods through Azeri territory to U. S. forces in Afghanistan.

Under Putin, Russia has moved away from an exclusively pro-Armenian orientation, enabling Russian-Azerbaijan relations to improve.

The Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, the U. S. and France) damaged their image with Azerbaijan in 2008 by voting against a Baku-sponsored resolution at the UNGeneral Assembly. While the Minsk group countries may have been seeking to prevent the involvement of other players in the mediation process, Azeris perceived their votes as favoring Armenia in the Karabakh conflict.

French diplomat Alexis Chahtahtinsky became OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Baku in March 2014 (OSCE)

French diplomat Alexis Chahtahtinsky became OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Baku in March 2014 (OSCE)

The OSCE Office in Baku was transformed into the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Baku in 2014.  Its tasks are to:

  • Support co-operation between the Government of Azerbaijan and the OSCE and its institutions in implementing OSCE principles and commitments;
  • Plan and implement projects between Azerbaijan and the OSCE and its institutions covering all three dimensions of OSCE’s comprehensive security concept, taking into account the needs and priorities of the Government of Azerbaijan;
  • Maintain contacts with governmental and non-governmental bodies, local authorities, universities, research institutions and NGOs;
  • Perform other tasks deemed appropriate by the Chairperson-in-Office or other OSCE institutions and agreed upon between the Government of Azerbaijan and OSCE.

In 2002 Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe.